Chapter 46: The Star to Every Wand’ring Barque 
“So that was his message?” Vincent asked with his characteristic humor after they’d finished their lunch. “He flew all the way from Buenos Aires to tell me I’m lucky to have you?”
Catherine nodded, grinning. “That’s my guess. Though given Elliot was at least nine or ten sheets to the wind, I might have misunderstood.”
Vincent shook his head, bemused. “I can't disagree with his taste in women, of course, but I don't envy him his hangover.”
Annie, sitting next to Catherine, started chuckling. “Elliot? Elliot Burch?”
“None other,” Catherine replied dryly. “Why? You know him?”
“Besides what I see on the TV? Yeah. He’s one of those ‘conservationists’ we try very hard not to deal with.”
“What do you mean?” Catherine asked.
“A while back, right after the Burch Tower development imploded in the courts,” and she raised her mug in a wry salute, “he swung into some of the old neighborhoods and made noises about how he was going to restore the brownstones. It was quite the show---press conferences, photo-ops, the whole kit and caboodle.” Annie stared into her coffee and pulled a face. “Of course, what he meant was that he was going to buy up the brownstones and ‘rehab’ the people who lived there right out of them—pay them a pittance for their homes, then resell them. He didn’t seem to understand people were living in those buildings; they might not have been Elliot Burch’s kind of people, but…it was their home.”
“It’s not the first time he’s tried this kind of…development,” Catherine replied, unsurprised. Elliot was not a man who took kindly to being thwarted and where he had failed once, he would try again.
“I’d heard that,” Annie replied. “Dad was furious when he found out. He does a lot of volunteer work to help old folks in their homes---basic repairs and the like---and the last thing he wanted to see is Elliot Burch taking over a bunch of historic buildings and putting a lot of rich yuppies in them.”
“What happened to the project?” Catherine asked.
“I’m not entirely sure. Elliot started having…difficulties. Some of it was petty vandalism---fuel lines cut on his machinery, tires slashed, that sort of thing---but the other problems were harder to deal with. I’ve heard rumors…”
Catherine remembered Elliot’s words to her a little over a year before: Max Avery is in a position to cripple four of my current projects. But when it’s over the city will be rid of him and so will I.  “Yes?”
“Dad thought Burch was paying Max Avery to keep his projects going---many of the large developers did.”
Catherine took a sip of her coffee, keeping her face very still. Max Avery's activities, as Joe had said at least once, were one of the worst-kept secrets in the city, yet there was a limit to how much she could reveal about what was still an active investigation. “Your father's very astute,” she said. “Please go on.”
“When he decided to testify against Avery, he started having crews walking off the site or his buildings sabotaged, or supplies arriving late or not at all. Finally, most of his financial backers left. He could have raised the necessary capital himself eventually, I suppose, but when with one project halted by court injunction and all the problems he was having with the others…Elliot Burch suddenly became a bad risk.”
Hence the development in Buenos Aires, Catherine thought. Far away from his troubles in New York City. “I’m prosecuting Max Avery.”
Annie’s eyes widened. “Oh, great. And Elliot Burch is one of your witnesses? And he showed up drunk on your doorstep this morning?”
Catherine nodded. “That about covers it. It’s been an…interesting time, so far.”
Annie rolled her eyes. “ ‘Interesting,’ huh? Like the Chinese curse?”
“ ‘May you live in interesting times,’ ” Vincent said. “Yes.”
Mouse looked up as they entered. “Vincent! Catherine!”
“Hi, Mouse,” Catherine said. “How are you feeling?”
“Head hurts,” Mouse replied. “Jamie’s going to take care of me, though.”
“I’m glad,” Vincent said. He noticed a lump moving under the covers, and Arthur’s head popped out, black button eyes intent, watching him very carefully. “Mouse…you know what Father will say.”
Mouse folded his arms gingerly. “He has Wilma and Slinky sleeping with him. Arthur’s not so different.”
“Father won’t see it that way,” Vincent replied gently, deciding not to go into the issues of domesticated cats versus raccoons, or animals in what was supposed to be a clean---if not sterile---hospital chamber. He lifted one corner of the covers, and Arthur obediently crawled back under them, chattering as he went. “However…Catherine, do you see Arthur?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. Funny how he just…disappears.”
Vincent smiled. “Isn’t it, though?” He drew up a chair to sit down, cautious of jostling Mouse’s ribs by sitting on the bed. “What happened in the basement?”
Mouse’s jaw set. “Told Father.”
“I know you did,” Vincent replied. “But I’d like you to tell me.”
“Won’t believe me.”
“You’d be surprised,” Vincent said dryly.
Mouse shrugged as much as he was able. “Went to the basement looking for copper wire. Found some buried in the corner. I heard a loud crash and someone shoved me out of the way.”
“Did you get a look at whoever it was?”
Mouse nodded. “Big guy. Disappeared. You believe me?”
Vincent nodded. “I do.” He stood. “Jamie will be here soon…get some rest and I’ll stop by to see you tomorrow.”
As they turned to leave, they were stopped by Mouse’s voice. “Vincent? Catherine?”
“Yes?” Vincent said.
Once they were well down the corridor and out of earshot, Catherine turned to Vincent. “Mouse didn’t see Kristopher, did he?”
“No,” Vincent replied. “Kristopher is many things, but he wouldn’t appear ‘big’ to Mouse’s eyes.” He folded his arms and leaned up against the corridor wall. “The building next door to ours…did you know it was set on fire deliberately?”
“No,” Catherine said, stunned. “I didn’t. How did you---”
“The scent of gasoline is all over the wood. I smelled it yesterday.”
Catherine shook her head. “Amazing. And the ghost who saved Mouse---”
“Possibly lived in the building. Which might also have been why Kristopher warned Cullen and me off the site; he knew there was danger there. Perhaps not all of the…presences…are as friendly as the one who saved Mouse.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this in connection with anything having to do with Kristopher but…it makes sense,” Catherine replied as they began walking again.
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “I’m going to talk to Father.”
“Good,” Catherine said. “If you need me, I’ll be in our chamber. A nap sounds awfully good right about now.” She gathered her hands in the collar of his sweater and pulled his head down for a kiss. “Good luck, love.”
Vincent found Father in his chamber, reading. He hesitated at the top of the steps, struck by a sudden memory. How many times had he seen Father deep in thought, buried in some journal or book? How many times had he come here as a boy, seeking solace or wisdom? In a strange sort of focus, he noticed the arthritis in Father's hands, the silvered hair, the lines on his face worn by care and hardship. When had that happened?
As if sensing his regard, Father turned to look at him. “Ah, Vincent, I was just writing up my notes on Mouse’s injuries. Where is Catherine?”
“Taking a nap,” Vincent answered, seating himself in the large carved chair on the other side of the desk.
“Excellent idea,” Father said. “The days after Winterfest are normally so calm around here, though today certainly hasn’t been. Have you seen Mouse today?”
“Yes,” Vincent replied. “Catherine and I just returned from visiting him.”
Father studied him. “You seem worried. Don’t be. Mouse’s injuries weren’t as severe as they might have been. It’s a miracle he wasn’t hurt worse.” He folded his hands on the desk. “Mouse says someone shoved him out of the way. Do you…know anything about it?”
And if I tell you, would you believe me? Vincent wondered. Aloud, he said, “I know only what Mouse told me.”
“Well, he had a head injury. I wouldn’t put too much trust in his recollection of the incident. You know Mouse and his stories.”
“I do. But Mouse doesn’t lie. If he says someone shoved him, I’m not inclined to doubt him.”
“The boy’s beginning to sound like Narcissa,” Father scoffed. “ ‘Someone’ shoved him out of the way of the falling debris, and that same ‘someone’ disappeared. All this talk of spirits is just hokum.”
Father’s disdain for the old sorceress was nearly legendary, but Vincent had long counted her as a dear friend. He swallowed the anger with the ease of long practice and looked at his parent. “And don't you wonder how I knew he was injured?”
Father steepled his hands, a gesture Vincent remembered well from his own childhood. “It’s enough Mouse was found, isn’t it?”
I could let this go now, Vincent thought---Father clearly wanted him to---but Catherine’s words came to mind again and he persisted. “Do you recall the painting of Catherine and me?”
Father let out a low chuff of amusement. “I’m not likely to forget, though how you came to sit for it...talking of utter foolishness...”
“Father, we never sat for the painting.” Father drew a quick breath and Vincent felt his parent’s disbelief. Taking a deep breath, Vincent began again. “Last year, we met a painter named Kristopher Gentian…”
When he’d finished, Father was silent for several minutes, a new record in Vincent’s experience. I should tell Devin. “And you’re telling me…he lives here? Among us?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes. Elizabeth leaves him paints and canvas now and again and Narcissa---"
“Oh, Narcissa---” Father said with all the scorn he could muster.
“Catherine’s seen him at least once Below.”
That brought Father up short. He might wonder about Narcissa’s sanity, and question the mental effects of Elizabeth’s prolonged and perpetual---if apparently happy---solitude, but Catherine was another story entirely. “Does she…what…how does she react?”
“She’s…come to acknowledge he’s a ghost. Though it took her some time.”
“I can…imagine,” Father replied. “So Mr. Gentian lives here and early this morning…came to warn you?”
“Yes,” Vincent responded. “I didn’t realize Mouse had gone to the wreck but when Jamie told me…”
“I see,” Father said.
Vincent could tell he didn’t, not really. “Do you believe what I’m telling you?”
“It’s not a matter of belief. Of course I trust you, but---”
“ ‘But’ what? I must be deluded and Catherine hallucinating and Mouse outright lying?” Vincent leaned forward so that his hands were flat on the top of the desk. The urge to pace was almost overwhelming, but Vincent forced himself to stillness, sensing if Father believed him agitated, he’d be that much less likely to listen. “All of my life,” Vincent went on, measuring his words, “I have…sensed things, known things you’ve told me I couldn’t possibly know. Yet when I was proven right, you’ve disregarded what I’ve said. And….it hurts. This is me, Father. This is who I am. Whatever I am. Can’t you accept it, even if you don’t believe?”
Father leaned back in his chair, a look of uncomfortable, shocked awareness settling on his features. It was the same look he'd worn when Vincent had forced him to confront the lifelong injustice of his treatment of Devin. “I never thought...I know what it is to have people disbelieve you, even when the truth is staring them in the face. Did I really….?”
Even now, his reluctance to cause this man any sort of pain nearly made Vincent bring the conversation to an end. “Yes,” he replied simply. “Not intentionally, I realize. But yes, you did.”
“I have been a fool,” Father said heavily.
Vincent tilted his head, considering what response might be made to that. Father looked at him and scowled. “You needn’t look as if you agree, Vincent.”
“I’m sorry,” Vincent answered, not at all contrite. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say the words.”
“I’m sure I haven’t,” Father retorted. “When Devin was down here for your wedding, we talked. He told me---not in so many words, you understand---that he couldn’t remember me ever apologizing or admitting fault.” He scrubbed his face with his hands and Vincent noticed again how old and worn he looked. “I’ve done a great many foolish things and will doubtless do many others. But I always tried to do my best by all of you. I never meant to hurt you, Vincent. And I’m truly sorry I did.” His eyes sharpened. “If I may ask…you’ve always been so reticent about discussing your differences. What’s brought all this up? Mouse?”
“Mouse,” Vincent confirmed. “And…other things.” Even as he said the words, he felt something, a pull of existence not yet formed. His child. Their children. The children waiting to be born. He realized it was not only on his own account that he spoke, but for them…one day.
The older man’s face softened. “Oh, I see.”
“What?” Vincent asked, startled out of his musings.
“I’ve seen that look before, you know,” Father went on. “Usually on a couple asking if they’re healthy enough to start a family. You and Catherine…?”
“It’s…a matter between us,” Vincent said quietly.
A smile pulled at Father’s mouth. “Of course. Just as it should be. But Vincent…I do understand your concerns. And you’ve given me quite a lot to think about.” His hand clasped Vincent’s. “I’m…sorry. Truly sorry.”
Regret and sadness flooded through the contact. “Thank you,” Vincent said.
Father rose then and poured some tea from a steaming teapot, his old ritual of comfort and reassurance. “I’d just put this on to steep before you arrived. Would you like some?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, please.”
Catherine awoke, certain her husband was near. “Everything all right?”
His arms enfolded her as he stretched out beside her on the bed; his heartbeat, a counterpoint to her own. “Yes. Finally.”
She turned to look at him, seeing how the lines of tension around his mouth had gentled. “I see. And you…talked?”
“I had the most wonderful dream,” she murmured.
“I dreamed you and I were bundled under the quilts together in Connecticut, listening to the rain fall.”
He smiled. “Connecticut, where I found the courage to love you fully.”
The solid heat of him anchored her to the earth, to the life they were building together. What was my life before you? I don’t remember. “You always had the courage, love. You just needed a little…encouragement.”
“Mmm,” he murmured against the curve of her shoulder, his lips soft, so soft… “This kind of encouragement?”
Click here for Chapter 47...
Click here for Chapter 47...
 William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXVI
 “Shades of Grey,” first season episode